Returning to Ottawa a 5 months ago had me initially feeling pretty shitty.
The restaurant scene here changed dramatically in the years I was gone, and frankly I haven’t the money or the interest to try more than a couple. My priorities have changed, we have a german car as expensive as a child, and we want a dog and a place of our own. I’m out of the loop and my focus is now more about bread.
My rule has always been to work minimum one year. After 3 months you get into your groove but it’s still a good challenge, after 7 months you have the routine down, past that you can take anything thrown at you (for the most part). Past a year it can get too comfortable verging on boring.
Working in four different restaurants/hotels in England was a circumstantial blip, but my I learned more in that time than any other. I became a professional once I left.
The thing about moving around so much, while still clearly being an employee who can commit, you tend to…always start back in the same income bracket. The money you make as a commis, for example, to a chef de partie isn’t much of a leap. And unless you work in a hotel or golf course, the pasty sous chef position isn’t available until you’ve worked somewhere long enough to prove yourself and they give you the title to justify a raise. Most of the time, you’re just tossed the Pastry Chef title, even when all you do is cut pre-fab cake and scoop ice cream, and you make what the CdPs make.
Having always focused on becoming the best pastry whatever I can be, I have moved around to have a thorough background, catering, fine dining, hotels, garde mange, hot line, tasting menus, bread, ice cream, pies and muffins, cakes. Through the years I have had to work mostly alone, relying on my own instincts, heavy reasoning, and research, grasping at what I could learn from other cooks and chefs where possible.
So when I come back here and see so many chefs in this city who have stayed in one restaurant for 6+ years, moving up the chain, maybe hanging out at sous for 4 years then grabbing Chef de Cuisine finally when the owners open a new place or if the previous chef moves on…I was bummed mostly because they can afford their hydro bill and feel comfortable in their place of employment and people talk about how great the food is on the internet. I’m the same age, but due to my desire to not stagnate I chose to galavant instead and I don’t have a locally beloved restaurant to unlock every morning.
I work with a baker who used to pastry chef, he worked for some amazing places over the years, then switched over to baking, probably for the same reason I bake more bread these days than make mousse — because it’s just so laid back (and better for me). We chat as often as our busy days can accommodate, and one day he asked if I was a collector of great recipes.
“Absolutely. I like to find the best, then adapt them to suit my style.”
“I’ll send you some of my recipes then.”
The next day he’d hand scrawled two pages of recipes from a place he worked at in the 90’s, a restaurant in Montreal that had been opened by a Chef now best known for being a Master Bread Maker (Jeffery Hamelman of King Arthur Flour has described him as the King) but who also studied classic Pastry and Cuisine intensely. His restaurant was considered one of the best in North America, and they served classic French food, but the real classics, not the Julia Child classics.
My heart fluttered because I was so excited to try them out, and I hoped I could do them justice. It was less about having the recipes and more about having the chance to step back in time.
Since my down time has been more about being a person and baking bread than sugar, I decided to give the honey-rich lemon curd, which my Calgary chef raves about, a go in a dessert for the Canadian’s birthday.
I love the Tarta de Santiago, a Galician almond-meal cake, sometimes baked in a crust, sometimes not, flavoured with cinnamon and lemon as a simple but very delicious treat.
Too simple for a birthday, but the flavour triad of bitter almond, lemon and cinnamon is one of my favourites, so I bulked up a dacquoise recipe with spice and extract (used sparingly I find it divine), layered it with the curd, a mead chiboost, and raspberries, and finished it with lemon and raspberry flowers.
Not especially seasonal, but it seemed a fitting ode to tradition while being inspired by my good luck in having the opportunity to work with someone who shares my passion for pastry.
Raspberry, Lemon, Cinnamon.
makes 3 6” discs
190g Almond flour
190g Icing Sugar
6 Egg Whites
2 drops natural almond extract
Preheat your oven to 350F
Prepare a sheet of parchment paper by outlining three 6” circles on the underside of the parchment. Have a piping bag and 10mm piping tip ready.
Sift or blitz your almonds, cinnamon, salt, and icing sugar.
Whip your egg whites on medium-high, gradually adding the sugar after they begin to foam. Once medium-stiff, fold your dry into the egg whites in three batches carefully without deflating the whites. Upon your last couple of strokes, add your extract.
Using a bit of the batter, stick the corners of your parchment to your cookie sheet.
Starting in the centre, pipe batter in circular motion, finishing by neatly dragging the tail into the previous circle.
Dust with icing sugar. Bake for 15 minutes, the top should look a touch crusty and firm but still soft and yielding to the touch, the outside ring should turn to a pinkish beige.
After they are baked, remove from tray while hot, transfer to a cooling rack and pop back into the oven for 5 minutes to help dry them. This will keep them from becoming soggy.
This is simply a pastry cream with italian meringue and gelatin. I chose this over whipped cream mainly because whipped cream is airy but heavy (fatty), and while I don’t strive to make diet desserts, I focus on achieving the textures and flavours with less fat and sugar than normal. It’s easy to whip cream or make a ganache and call it done, making a dessert that is cheaper, less fatty, and less sugary without anyone noticing is not.
Though there is little mead in this, it had a surprisingly prominent flavour without fighting with the lemon or raspberry. Bang-on.
Honey Wine Pastry Cream
200ml 3.25% milk
18g Cornstarch or Flour
3g Vanilla bean paste, or 1/4 bean
Combine mead, milk,vanilla, and half the sugar in a small sauce pot.
Whisk the cornstarch or flour with remaining sugar. While the milk heats on medium, whisk the cornstarch/sugar into the yolks, whisking until light.
When the milk begins to simmer, pour a small amount over your yolks and whisk quickly. Once incorporated add a bit more. When the eggs feel quite warm, whisk them into the sauce pot and whisk vigorously while the mixture cooks until it begins to boil. Take care not to over cook, it only needs about 20 seconds at a boil.
Pour onto a cookie sheet (or a pie pan), cover with plastic wrap or parchment and place in the fridge or on your porch until cool.
This is a very small batch because it is a small cake, so watch the honey it will cook very quickly. When heated, honey will boil over easily, so don’t cook this in a shallow pan.
3 Egg whites
150g wildflower honey
1g sheet gelatin, bloomed in cold water
Heat your honey on medium.
Whip your whites on medium-high. Add sugar when foamy.
When your honey reaches 120C, remove from heat and slowly pour it down the side of the bowl while your whites whip. Squeeze the water out of the gelatin and add. Turn to high and whisk until just warm to the touch.
Soften your pastry cream by transferring to a bowl and whapping with a spatula until smooth. Fold in your meringue in three stages, then transfer to a piping bag with a fancy tip.